Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Strange Fascination for Gandhi's Sexuality

Currently very popular due to the recent controversy, Joseph Lelyveld's new book on Gandhi cites a few selected sentences from Gandhi's letters and some of his actions which can certainly imply him to be of bisexual nature, in the Western (especially American) context. Mr. Lelyveld claims to have "treaded very carefully" with the information, but being an Indian (and not because I admire Gandhi) I would like to say that he probably didn't have enough information. I say so because I think it would require a very good understanding of the Indian culture to be able to make such statements, and I am not sure if he had such an understanding, even though he has spent a considerable time in India.

To begin with, sleeping in one bed with another male is normal for males in India, in fact at times it is the preferred arrangement when there are more couples (guests) in a house than rooms. Sharing a bed, in fact even if a really small bed, where it is hard for two people to sleep without physically touching other person is really no big deal, and any Indian can testify for that. In fact, it is no big deal for Americans to confuse a normal heterosexual Indian male who moved out of India recently as someone with bisexual tendencies, because of the way they would interpret his actions. In a normal man's life, homophoebia in America is certainly many degrees higher than in India, though Indians being good hypocrites and have a very bad appetite to digest this idea when discussed in public.

Our conservative and closed society has made us much more open in front of same sex people, especially the way Indian guys seem cozy or careless with other guys bodies' touching them. Idea of an individual's space is really not a common occurrence in India. Also, in the absence of open and close friendships with the other sex, someone resorting to a strong (though touchy feely type) relationship with a person of same sex, shouldn't be considered anything more than what it is. It took me a reasonable amount of time in US, to understand the difference and behave accordingly. In India we used to hug guy friends and shake hands with female friends, it was just opposite in US, basically most things which are perfectly appropriate to be done in public for a guy and girl e.g. walking/sitting while holding hands, is considered appropriate in India for two guys too. In fact, in more conservative areas same behavior by a couple in public would be totally unacceptable :-)

Anyway, I wasn't lucky enough to be born in Gandhi's times so I don't really know how magical his influence was, but I sincerely think that if millions worshiped him and were willing to die for him from the hands of enemy without any retaliation to the enemy, then he must come across as someone really very powerful and godly. My point is that maybe Mr. Lelyveld read more than what it was between the lines or in the lines. Otherwise also, I think it is not wrong to assume that such a godly status is not awarded to anyone who doesn't do what he preaches. So, we can safely say that even if Gandhi was bisexual by nature or genetically, he would not have broken his vows of abstinence for anyone, either male or female.

When I heard the news of this controversy, I couldn't stop laughing because just a day earlier a Hindu conservative was trying to convince me that Gandhi used to eploit minor girls and other women in his Ashram, etc. So, my first reaction to this controversy was that it as a funny fight between a Hindu conservative (who generally tend to hate Gandhi.. more on that in another post) and a Western Liberal.

Interestingly, almost all of this controversy has gone viral before anyone has even read the book, which I read focuses on other aspects of Gandhi's life and has only a very short discussion on this controversial topic. Probably people are also making the same mistake which author has made (i.e. if he has made one.. this is for disclaimer's sake because I also haven't read the book), which is, reading more than what it is there in between the lines.

In any case, one thing is certain that this strange fascination for Gandhi's sexuality will never die both because of the Hindu conservative who want to prove him as a fraudster (probably because they blame Gandhi for partition and other issues very dear to their hearts) and because of the western liberals who may just be too curious to begin with, and then finally start seeing what they wanted to see, while they might be unconsciously choosing to not see it all from the way things really are in some other culture, cultures which they can't fully relate to or understand.

Whatever it is, or even if Gandhi broke his vows of abstinence, nothing can make him any less of a man then he was in our history. And yes, it is finally so nice to hear that for once government of India will not ban a controversial book :-) It seems, even after death Gandhi is leading India in teaching something important, i.e. freedom of speech.

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